Explore the newly reinstalled I. M. Pei building
on Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Written by Senior Curator Alison Ferris
Two upcoming exhibitions, Alchemy: Transformations in Gold (organized by Curator Laura Burkhalter) and Ruptures (which I will be curating) examine, in different manners, the ways in which contemporary artists’ chosen materials operate poignantly in their overt physicality while simultaneously creating meaning.
When it came time to reinstall the upper gallery in the Art Center’s Pei building, I decided to focus on works from the permanent collection that function similarly—through the self-conscious use of materials—so that discussions had in the Main Gallery could continue in Pei.
For instance, viewers will find that British artist Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Plinth) (1995-1996), a rich, deep-orange, soft rectangular sculpture made of rubber, is a cast of the empty space beneath a table found in a mortuary. The physicality of the sculpture—the rubber suggesting the same softness and ruddiness of the human body—paradoxically represents absence and, by extension, mortality.
Nigerian artist El Anatsui’s Basin (2012) is an immense metal wall hanging made from cropped bottle caps collected from a distillery in his home town. The production and trade of liquor played a key role in the 18th and 19th century slave trade and Anatsui’s use of bottle top fragments reference this catastrophic history.
Irish-born artist Sean Scully’s Wall of Light Red Night (2003-2004) is a large painting of brick-like forms, influenced by sun-dappled, ancient Mayan temples. Though imposing in size, the painting is remarkably intimate and the visible brush strokes applied with a house painter’s brush gives it a sense of immediacy. Scully intuitively chose the colors and reveals the underpainting, making it look deliberately handmade. While his grids are reminiscent of Minimalists’ inexpressive systems—like Donald Judd’s Untitled (1976-1977) and Carl Andre’s Arcata Castor (1983) which are also included in the Pei gallery, Scully’s paintings are far from undemonstrative, in fact, they are unabashedly emotional.